I recently applied for a local writing contest and had to submit a few shorter pieces. Reviewing my portfolio, I’ve had my head down working on novels for the last 12-plus years. There has been occasional blogging when I was distracted with crafts or inspired by travel, but I’ve done very little other writing.
I spent several hours yesterday going over this space to find a couple essays I could include in my submission for the contest. In doing so, I am reminded why I blog. This site has served as my journal for the last 10 years. Moves across the country, countless recipes, adopting Nelson, marathons, a wedding and two books later — my life has taken turns I couldn’t have imagined.
Eyeing the craft supplies in the guest room, I wonder if I will ever return with a fervor to share the latest pattern or project. I now know I cannot be creatively focused on more than one project at a time. Finishing this novel is my priority; my sewing machine has grown dusty.
The one exception to this seems to be knitting. When I am winding down at night and my husband is watching sports or a food program, I find peace in knitting. (Not in Guy Fieri’s shoveling.)
I’m not giving up my crafting supplies yet, or this blog. Yet, I am giving myself the space to change. Expect more updates on writing process, knitting patterns and married life in the burbs.
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Many thanks to my friend Amanda for always being willing to come to events with her camera. I love these shots and am using them on my new author page, too.
And, thank you to everyone who came to the signing, who has bought a copy of Basket Baby, and those who have sent a note of encouragement about the story. You never know how these things are going to go, and it is easy to let the most insecure thoughts win. The last month has added fuel to the fire that I may just be able to do this for a living one day.
If you have read Basket Baby and wouldn’t mind leaving an Amazon review, I’d really appreciate it. This is helpful in a variety of ways, namely that with enough reviews the Amazon robots pay attention to your book and will help promote sales. Thank you!
Now, to those great photos:
(How adorable is my husband?)
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Photo by Amanda Nemec
Hi, all! The book signing this weekend went marvelously. It was, much like the wedding, full of unnecessary nervousness and over far too quickly. My face was hot for the reading, I was so flustered—which was silly because the room was full of people I know and love. This burgeoning writing career is a dream come true, and there is little that feels better than to know your tribe will come out and support your wild endeavors.
For those interested, there are signed copies still available at Changing Hands in Tempe, and there are copies also available online. (If you’ve read Basket Baby and wouldn’t mind providing a review, I’d appreciate it.) I’m offering to attend book clubs in person locally, and via Skype elsewhere. If you have a group interested, let’s email.
Now, on to the next book. I’m writing Counting Coup and am well into the final chapters. This is both exciting and unnerving because there are major plot holes and character issues I have to resolve with the next pass. This is when in the writing process, it is much easier to stuff the project in the back of a drawer (or a folder hidden within another folder on your hard drive.) It is like building a house and recognizing you have to add another room, and change where the fireplace is located. And maybe you need another bathroom? But first, you have to finish the drywall and the tiling. You’ll go back and knock down that part of the house later.
It is tempting to pull out the wrecking ball now, is what I’m trying to say. (That and I’m likely watching too much HGTV.) Editing now would be a very bad idea. When I have the end in sight, I have learned in the last ten-plus years of writing that it is critical to push on. The first draft is always bad. Always. Whether you are Tolstoy or Donley, you’re going to have to make some major revisions. But by not first writing the ending, you’re still in first draft limbo. And this gray area, for me, is a swamp of self-doubt and loathing. It is a murky land full of mean girl voices whispering how I’m never going to be a great writer and I don’t deserve to tell this story.
Those mean girls are bitches and deserve to stay in their swamp. This time, I’m not falling off the thin bridge I’ve built over their noise. I know at next pass, and the next, and quite likely the next, and then the final, that bridge will become more solid. And the negativity will go dormant until arriving here when telling the next story. I am not going to get caught walking in circles, writing and editing until I’m so frustrated I put it down, or worse—quit.
So, buckle up. We’re headed toward that tiny light on the horizon.
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This month’s editor’s letter in Bon Appetit is about Adam Rapaport’s habit of taking himself out for a long lunch once a month, with a cocktail, to find inspiration. He sits at the bar, takes his time, and gets a ton of work done—all while savoring food at his own pace.
There is something so luxurious about dining alone. I love the idea of a lunch date with my work.
If you’ve noticed a lack of sewing, knitting, and baking around here it is because I made a decision in early 2016 to focus on writing. I’m reading books for research (with a bit of fluff in between) and trying to spend a least an hour a day writing. This included the business of getting the last novel out the door, too.
Time to write, to throw dialog and plot ideas against the page without worrying about editing, is my favorite part. I make up crazy characters with wild hair and bad attitudes. I make the next door neighbor an unexpected thief, the priest a murderer and the chef a brilliant recluse. I play with fodder from my word-a-day email, just to try them out on the page.
It’s working. I’m 40,000 words into this novel, which is about half-way. I’ve set up the conflict and the characters and am in the thick of it. This is where the research has to be right, the observations keen and the storytelling lyrical. The reader has already enjoyed a nice salad and piece of thick cut bread with salted butter, and the main course is coming out with cheese bubbling on top. There is promise of a great slice of chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream and a hot cup of coffee for dessert, too.
Today, between appointments and traveling across the state to speak on suicide prevention, I’m going to find a bar, a glass of sadly-I’m-still-on-the-clock seltzer, and work through lunch.
Thanks for the idea, Adam. And thank you for hanging around here where there are fewer tutorials and recipes, but still the same heart (and appetite.)
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- Good to Great, Writing
Oh, hi there. Life has been rather chaotic around these parts, in the best of ways. We are planning a wedding, the kids started high school this week, and I’ve finished up final (no, really) edits on Basket Baby.
Now, for cover design, and continued work on the next book. I’m also developing an author website.
I read books differently these days, with deep curiosity to structure, character development and conflict resolution. Reading will always remain one of my favorite past times, but today it also feels like a valuable form of research.
A few things I’ve read/listened to as an audiobook lately that are worthy of discussion:
- Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets Whoooo boy, does this one take a darn turn. Have you read this book? If you like creepy stories, dive in. If you have any fear of large lizards, this isn’t the read for you. 2 bananas, absoloodle.
- No Baggage This memoir is about a young woman coming to terms with her mental health issues and transitioning to adulthood, all while traveling across Europe with a new boyfriend for three weeks without luggage. She literally only took a small purse, which becomes a problem when her one tampon doesn’t suffice. I really enjoyed listening to it. 2 bananas, absoloodle
- Girl on a Train I am excited to see they are making this book a movie, because if I am a sucker for these sorts of thrillers. I did enjoy this book, although as a friend said—my major issue was by the end of the story, there wasn’t a single character I was rooting for. They were all so horribly flawed that they were unlikeable. That’s a problem. It will be very interesting to see how this is adapted to the big screen. 2.5 bananas, absoloodle
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Of course, I loved this classic. It is a great slice of American history and reminded me so much of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love stories told about perseverance and female leads. Winner, winner. 4 out of 5 bananas, absoloodle.
I’m currently reading, Evicted, which is important for my public health work. (I’m trying to read more nonfiction.) What have you read lately?
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- Media, Writing
I working on novel 3: “Counting Coup.” It is in the bare bones beginning stages, where I am throwing a bunch of ideas and characters down on the page and seeing what works. I’m about 15,000 words into this story — part of which is set on a farm in Nebraska in the 1950s and the other side, set in modern day Phoenix.
One of the characters has dementia. I’ve been struggling with how to get the details right about her care and her symptoms without barraging the reader with information that reads like a medical journal entry. Books that accidentally teach me something are my favorite. (A recent example is “All the Light We Cannot See,” and the creation and engineering of radios.)
Writing about dementia that lets the reader experience it emotionally, but doesn’t hit them over the head with sentimentality, is tricky.
This week my boss asked me to attend a health care conference in town. She was presenting and wasn’t able to attend several sessions of interest herself. Imagine my delight when I got the course material and realized one of those sessions was with an expert in dementia behaviors and treatment. Seriously. I took five handwritten pages of notes, was able to ask questions and got the details and nuance I needed to better develop this character.
When the universe aligns in this way, I feel like my friends Creativity and Inspiration are sitting on either side of me, paving the path to something great. I skipped out of there with new motivation to get back to writing and feeling very lucky. Speaking of — time to get back to it.
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More than a year ago, I sent my second novel, “Basket Baby” off to a small publishing house in Montana. A friend of mine had success in publishing with them, and spoke highly of their work. She said she’d put in a good word.
They read the first few chapters, requested the rest of the novel, and returned it with detailed editing and a note that said, “This may or may not be for us. There are a lot of cliches.” (I’m paraphrasing, but the word cliche was definitely used.)
I made their changes, page by page. And I workshopped the novel with a group of people I trust. I watched common errors fall away — word echos that are hard to catch in your own work, for example. I noticed that my dialog skills were strengthened by reminding the reader who is speaking, even if it is just two people and it is wildly clear to you, the writer. My character descriptions became more consistent and true.
These are a few of many areas I worked through before sending “Basket Baby” back to the original publisher. A month later, I got the news: they had decided to publish the book. The edits were good, and I’ve been assigned another editor to work with during the next 60 days to make the story ready for print. I’m working with another staff member on designing a book cover. “Basket Baby” will be on store shelves December 6, 2016.
I mean… I’ve been talking about this day for decades. This novel, like the first, took years to see the light of day. And then took increasingly thick skin to make something worth sharing publicly. I’ve called myself a novelist since I self-published “Under the Same Moon” in 2010. Today, it feels real. And, it feels absolutely marvelous!
Thank you for hanging around here all these years to see this dream to fruition. I’ll be sharing book signing dates as they are scheduled and hope to see as many of you as possible.
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- Media, Writing
In the last month, I’ve read or listened to the following:
Big Magic: This Elizabeth Gilbert memoir on creativity was very entertaining. I listened to this while sewing Christmas presents and can’t tell you how many times I had to stop to find a piece of paper to jot down something she’d just said. I am a big Gilbert fan, so it isn’t surprising I found this charming. Perhaps the most important notion I took away from this is never ask your art to take care of you. As a creative person, you are given a gift by being handed the desire to make. If it happens to come about that your work can eventually take care of you financially, lucky you. But your job is to nurture the process and result and treat it like a dear lover.
I really dig this. Four out of five bananas, absoloodle.
The Thornbirds: I read this epic because my best friend Meghann was named after one of the characters. I’d had this giant dusty book on my shelf for years. It was a delight to read it. I got sucked into the family drama nearly immediately and spent most of my Christmas break with my nose in this one. It is a good story and was satisfying like a piece of warm cheese pizza. Not fancy, but just what you may be craving. 2.5 bananas.
Wool: Okay, this book shook me up. I received Wool as a Christmas gift with a note from a girlfriend who is a bookworm. It was her favorite read of 2015. That got my attention because Rachele reads a ton. So, I dug in, not knowing what to expect. I was taken to a post-apocalyptic America, where a community of people are living in a silo. I’m not a big science fiction reader, but this story is excellent and grabbed me from the beginning. Come to find out, Hugh Howley the author started this as a blog-based story. He’d publish and take votes and suggestions from readers. He then self-published and eventually it got picked up by a big publisher. It is now the first book of a trilogy! I am going to get to the other two this year.
Loved this story and have already sent it twice to others as gifts. 4.5 bananas.
A Good Year: Quick, romantic read about a man who inherits a vineyard in France. It is fluff reading, but what I needed. I enjoyed this.
The Sound of Gravel is a memoir of a woman who escaped a fundamentalist polygamist community in northern Mexico. She was one of a handful of children; her father had something like 39 kids. It is an alarming story considering these communities continue to thrive in Arizona and elsewhere. Ruth’s powerful story of survival and courage is one that will stick with you.
Not a Fan: I read this book as part of a study at my church. The author, Kyle Idleman, came to speak last Sunday after we’d spent four weeks studying his work. He is an excellent speaker and the book did make me question how I am living my life, and how I can be closer to God.
I’m currently listening to The Goldfinch.
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My mom had told me the McNay Museum in San Antonio was worth visiting, but I had no idea they would have such an incredible collection. I saw my first (and second) Diego Rivera! If you ever get the chance, spend an afternoon at this collection. The mansion alone is spectacular.
The art did not disappoint either:
(Yes. That is entirely of cheese doodles. What was even stranger was two of the mannequins moved.)
Diego Rivera — self-portrait
The next three are all another favorite of mine, Georgia O’Keeffe
And an odd Picasso for good measure.
If you get the chance, GO!
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- Journal, Media
Our first date was nearly two years ago. He surprises me regularly with his thoughtfulness and ability to make me laugh — especially at myself. (His patience is demonstrated in laughing with me, for example, at the previous 14 chapters.)
Two teenagers, three dogs, one bunny and us: the happy little family I’ve dreamed of.
Our story continues!
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